Tyler Cowen responds


Freddie deBoer used to blog at lhote.blogspot.com, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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1 Response

  1. Walter says:

    I am glad that Dr. Cowen has clarified the views expressed in his diavlog. Like Freddie, I haven’t read his book, so my impression of his views were based on his discussion of the topic with Mr. Wilkerson. I took his main point to be that autism should not be viewed as a disorder but as a mismatch between these individual’s personality profiles and the attitudes and opportunities in society as a whole. Neither of these gentlemen mentioned that a greater portion of people with autistic personality profiles engage in repetitive and unproductive or even self-abusive behavior as compared to people without it. Or that they end up in institutions. In a similar vein they applaud the fact (I take their word for it) that people with dyslexia are over-represented among the entrepreneurial class without also mentioning that they also are over-represented in our prisons. I don’t think Freddie misrepresented the views expressed on bloggingheads; perhaps in that context, Dr. Cowen was unable to express the full range of ideas expressed in his book. It seems more accurate to say the discussion misrepresented the views he says are expressed in the book.

    I have a lot of sympathy for the notion that people who are at the high-functioning end of a profile/disorder often have abilities that differ from the norm in ways that can allow them to succeed in the right niche. And that public discussion that focuses only on the plights of people at the other end of the spectrum can skew the way society responds to their condition to the detriment of the higher-functioning. I have had a similar experience to the two bloggingheads, except with depression. I believe they pointed out that we often have a more realistic understanding of our abilities, ie. we don’t share the widespread psychological phenomena of being overconfident of our abilities. But this comes at a cost. Other discussions of this phenomena have noted that overconfidence may have important evolutionary implications. While overconfidence does cause difficulties, it also leads individuals to take on new and challenging tasks they wouldn’t otherwise. And often they succeed. Years of seeing everything happening in my life through a foggy gray filter kept me in a job I was not well suited for and a relationship that was not as fulfilling as I would have liked, but I could just not see success following from a major restructuring of my life. I could only see the downsides–like economists, 15 of the 3 downsides. After a couple of years of treatment–not merely being told and even understanding on some level that I had hidden worth as an individual that could be cultivated by changing my life–I moved across the country and took up a radically different lifestyle and have never been nearly as happy.

    Would hearing my life-story really be of any use to someone in the midst of an episode of major depression? I doubt it. Perhaps depression is unique in this, but my view is that the style of thinking that I engaged in pre-treatment would have meant that I would have come up with any number of reasons for knowing that such a story was the exception to the rule, that it didn’t apply to me because of my unique circumstances… And hearing that I didn’t have a disorder, but only a different personality profile, would have only confirmed notions I believed and used as reasons to not seek treatment. Being referred to as a depressive would have also been counterproductive. (In his second response, Dr. Cowen twice refers to autistics despite decrying reference to individuals with autism personality profile as “pure disorders”) Being treated as a person with a serious illness, even a disorder, allowed me to focus on what I had in common with others, whereas being called a “depressive” would have set me apart as different.

    Perhaps changing economies and technologies will provide enough niche positions for all the people with autism, ADD, and depression who also have above average IQ’s, come from advantaged backgrounds, and somehow are able to come to terms with their true strengths and weakness. And we should all desire and work toward a society that is ordered to maximize these possibilities. But in the case of autism and depression at least, there will still be a need for approaches that acknowledge that many with these conditions will lack the means to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and that without specialized help they will suffer far worse fates than not finding a fulfilling, productive profession. Perhaps how to get there would be a good discussion for another bloggingheads.Report